The Indians signings of free agents Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn got most of the attention this past offseason.
The hiring of Terry Francona as manager was also big news, and Cleveland even made headlines on the trade front with the three team, nine player deal that netted them Trevor Bauer and several other key pieces to the 2013 ball club.
But of all the moves the Indians made in the offseason, the best move may have been when they traded middle reliever Esmil Rogers to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for infielder Mike Aviles and catcher Yan Gomes.
The Rogers for Aviles and Gomes trade came on the heels of the Francona hiring and was the Indians’ opening salvo into what looks like an offseason of dreams considering how many of their moves have worked out well to this point.
At the time, the Indians were flush with right-handed middle relief and setup options with Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, and Cody Allen, so they pulled from an area of strength and dealt Rogers for two pieces they sorely needed: a utility infielder that could start and a major league-ready catcher with some promise both offensively and defensively.
To date, Rogers is 1-2 with a 5.95 ERA in 20 appearances for the Blue Jays, and in 19.2 innings has a 1.63 WHIP. He is only averaging five strikeouts per nine innings. The Indians have more than adequately replaced him with the pickup of right-handed reliever Bryan Shaw from the Diamondbacks in the Trevor Bauer trade.
The art of flipping assets is something that has avoided the Indians in recent years; however, the Rogers deal is a clear example that this trend may have reversed. The Indians bought Rogers from the Rockies last season, and he pitched well the last half of the season. Because of the depth at the position they were able to flip him for immediate needs and replace him with a better pitcher in Shaw.
That is an example of a front office that was on top of their game in the offseason.
Gomes has really impacted this team with his bat and defense behind the plate. The 25-year old has developed a strong apport with the pitching staff and has settled in nicely as one of the more important cogs of the Indians 1-through-25 approach to their 25-man roster.
Gomes came with some high regard because of his catch and throw skills and some power in his bat, but was considered an unfinished product defensively. Those question marks have dissipated in the early-going this season, and his catch and throw skills have been on full display as he has thrown out 7 of 11 attempted base stealers (63.6%). He has shown some of his power potential with 8 of his 16 hits going for extra bases. The young catcher has, so far, piled up a .642 slugging percentage.
On Monday afternoon, he did it all. Gomes showed his defense with a great block at the plate late in the game to save a run. He showed his impressive quick release by gunning down two runners on the basepaths. And he showed his impact potential with the bat by pounding out three hits and two home runs, one of which was the game winning three-run homer in the 10th inning.
Gomes has grown in popularity not only with the Indians brass, but with the fan base as well. Lou Marson has been the backup catcher for a few years now and, while he has been a solid defensive catcher, he leaves a lot to be desired with his offense. Gomes, on the other hand, brings some solid defense, some versatility to play a few other positions, and most importantly he can hit.
Overall, Gomes has still only played in 17 games and in just 53 at bats is hitting .302 with four homers, nine RBI and .951 OPS. The sample size may be extremely small, but the quality of his at bats has been there.
Gomes has proven he deserves to stay in Cleveland once Marson is eligible to come off the disabled list from his right shoulder injury.
At that point, the Indians will have an interesting dilemma. They will have to decide hether they should option out Gomes or try to get Marson through optional waivers so they can option him to Triple-A Columbus. Marson is the veteran and it is often said a player should never lose their spot because of an injury… but if Gomes keeps playing like this then the Indians will have no choice but to keep him in Cleveland.
The Indians will cross that bridge when they get to it as there is no timetable as to when Marson will even return. Likely, his days with the Indians are numbered anyway. Whether he is traded at some point this season or is non-tendered in the offseason (a more likely scenario), he very likely will not be a member of the Indians organization past this season.
Gomes is the future at catcher for the Indians, either as a regular or the backup to Carlos Santana. He has shown that future is now.
The other player in the deal, Aviles, has since provided the Indians with an invaluable solution in the utility infielder role, a badly needed missing part over the past few seasons since Jamey Carroll left the organization.
Aviles is a good defender at shortstop and has the versatility to play third base, second base and left field as well. His bat is solid and putting Aviles in the lineup does not lead to a big drop off in production when he replaces a regular.
The trade of Rogers for Aviles and Gomes was minor in that it was just a middle reliever for two bench players, but the one-sidedness of the deal should be underscored.
The impact both have made to date off the bench has been huge. Score another one for the front office.